The Island of Misfit Toys


Do you work for an idiot? This is not a rhetorical question. Pound the comment section below and tell me all about it. Misery loves company and I love you.

The Decade of Despair. 11 years of insignificant ecommerce jobs in a small town and counting. Three jobs, three bosses, and three teams of us, the underbelly employees.

An odd coincidence is that in every case the employees ended up referring to themselves as “The Island of Misfit Toys.” Loosely translated I think that means: “Those willing to put up with this shit.”

Bosses who are in over their heads are more likely to bully subordinates. That’s because feelings of inadequacy trigger them to lash out at those around them.

Researchers/UC Berkley

There were amazing parallels between the bosses, too. Questionable ethics, pointless products, and treatment that would send the ASPCA into a frenzy if it didn’t happen to organisms as pathetic as human beings.

Oh, and the bosses were able to achieve amazing feats of stupidity.

After all, it takes a lot of leadership to inspire your employees to think of themselves as “The Island of Misfit Toys.” Can you even imagine?

In this post I offer one hypothetical and back it up with a typical average example of what it’s like to work for an idiot. As if you wouldn’t know.

An article on Forbes says that if you find yourself working for an idiot you should turn that situation into an “advantage.” Oh man, I hope Forbes rots in Hell. The article says you should become an “enhancement to the boss.” Source:

To me, that advice is remarkably similar to: “If you see a drowning man offer him a glass of water.”

My last boss was “interrupt driven.” Each morning to start the day, he’d stride into work and bask us in his magnificence. “Stop what you are doing,” he’d say. “I have a new task.”

“But this task is 50% complete. Shouldn’t I get it done?” I’d lamely ask, at least at the beginning.

“No. This is the most important thing ever.”

“Yeah, that’s what you said yesterday.”

bad-bossImagine that I was employed to make cars and that it took me two days to make a car. And that each morning my boss would order me to stop working on the car that was half-finished and start a new one.

Do the math. Assuming a work year containing about 200 days, at the end of the year we’d be the proud owners of about 200 half-finished cars.

Brilliant! Inspiring!

Try not to let logic interfere. For example, don’t think about things like, “Well, if you’re so brilliant and this new task is the most important thing ever, what does that say about your judgement when you told me the exact same thing yesterday? And you’ll tell me the exact same thing tomorrow.”

But that’s how it went. Nothing ever got done.

You won’t be too surprised to hear that even though I changed jobs and bosses, the pattern continued. What are the odds?

“I want to improve our website traffic. Where do our hits come from?”

“99% from Apples and 1% from Oranges.”

“I’m brilliant! I know just what to do. Put everything we’ve got into Oranges. Stop work on everything else. This is now your most important task.”

To the small-minded “decisiveness” can be a dangerous intoxicant. What they seem to forget is that what is being decided is also of some importance. “That doesn’t matter! I made decisions. That’s a good day’s work.”

So, out of the blue, the boss decided to stop all work on the new website, a project that has been underway for over two years now. I shit you not. Suddenly this obscure website that might send us hits someday was the most important thing. We had to work CSV file automation. Data had to be reorganized for the umpteenth time.

Part of this new task impinged on duties that belonged to the boss’ wife. She got wind of it one morning and three minutes later stormed into the office to engage in a turf war with the boss. In front of all the employees. It’s only a 20′ x 20′ office. We don’t even have the luxury of partitions. For weeks they battled back and forth. We witnessed it all.

It worked like this: The boss would give you a task. You’d do it. Mrs. Boss, sitting at home, would notice the change on one of her reports. She’d immediately ring the boss and she’d demand to know what you were doing. The boss would explain and, for some strange reason, he’d use the word “we” a lot. Like I had anything to do with it. Three minutes later she’d storm into the office, and they’d fight about what you were doing right in front of you. Then they’d take it outside.

An hour later, when the boss came back, he’d tell you to drop it. The turf war had been settled and the Mrs. Boss union had established the lines of debarkation.

ReprimandFor over a month the boss would flip out about this task. He’d pull all the employees into two-hour meetings where he’d ostensibly talk about the task but really it was about showing us all how magnificent he is. Meetings became opportunities to bask in the brilliance of the boss.

We must have wasted 60 hours, spread across this task, in a single month. That included meetings, contradictory orders from the boss and his wife, changing in midstream, and much, much more.

Finally I was able to run the numbers for the month of November 2012 and see the results of our efforts. I was able to gauge the effectiveness of the decisions that had been made. How much additional traffic had been sent to the website? What was our level of success?

Four visits.

The boss really knows how to get after that low-hanging fruit.

It almost makes all of the drama, fights, hip-wading through bullshit and turf wars seem worth it. Almost.

6 responses

  1. Ha ha ha ha…four! There is a post coming about how he justified this as a good thing, right?


    1. I might have mumbled something about “interstellar fruit” under my breath, and he defensively said something along the lines that it’s not about the quality, that he was trying to learn how it works. Whatever, four-click-loser!

      By no small coincidence, four clicks is also the minimum safe distance for boss. I’m forced to violate safety procedures every time I’m at work. Luckily the boss doesn’t like my side of town so I’m usually pretty safe on weekends.


  2. So I guess a Christmas bonus is out of the question, huh?


    1. LOL! You kill me.

      There’s been no mention of one, thank God. Last year’s made me so mad. I still consider that “bonus” one of the worst things that ever happened to me. I wrote about 10,000 words about The Bonus Incident but decided against public sharing. Sometimes I don’t wish to offend, ya know.


  3. Since our adoption of Agile methodology (which was initially quite horrible) we’ve been much better about “chasing silver balls.” We used to be interrupt driven, but now we’re a lot more focused on actually producing something. It’s nice to get results each sprint. That being said, there’s no more “down time” like we used to have. The schedule is pretty full.

    I’ve worked for some crappy bosses in the past though. Once I worked for a senior writer who would say wonderful things to me, like “what were you thinking?” and “were you listening to what I said to you the first time, or were you daydreaming?” I despised her, but she knew the job better than I did, and despite being a bitch, she was highly competent. I learned a lot from her, but I left the second I could find something else.


Bringeth forth thy pith and vinegar

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